There are 357 miles between University of Portland and Gonzaga. That shakes out to about five hours and 15 minutes in the car, or in the Villa Drum Squad’s case, seven cars.
Thirty-five members of the 1,000 person group made the trip to support the Pilots against the Zags Sunday at Luger Field. Clad in kilts, scarves and in some cases little else, and equipped with a bevy of cheers, the Villa Drum Squad positioned its members on the grassy knoll behind one of the goals.
In GU’s 5-1 loss, the Zags felt their presence.
“We know we make a difference," said Patrick Barrier, a junior and one of the group's captains. "It’s not a ‘we think we do.’ We know that we do."
That’s not just trash talk, as GU head coach Einar Thorarinsson backed up the sentiments.
“Their fans had an effect,” Thorarinsson said. “They were their 12th man so to speak. They were loud; just good fans for them.”
GU went into halftime up 1-0, after senior Jakob Granlund scored on a penalty kick in the 23rd minute. Granlund outran the UP defense and was tripped up just inside the box.
But after halftime something shifted, and the Pilots scored five-straight goals in the span of 13 minutes.
The loss marks GU’s fourth defeat in the past five games, after opening the season with a 5-0-1 record.
“Our plan coming into the game was to let them play in the back and hit them on the counter and we were doing that,” Thorarinsson said. “Then they tied it up and everything changed. That was the difference, our focus was lost.”
After the half, the teams switched sides placing keeper Ben Willis directly in front of the Portland faithful.
“Ben was ready for it, but it wears on you,” Thorarinsson said of the fans. “(Portland) had a crowd to go to after goals, so that makes a difference.”
The Villa Drum Squad, which is self-funded, makes about five road trips a season, but this is the first time Thorarinsson and the Zags have encountered it. Members of the group called GU and Santa Clara Portland’s top competition in men’s soccer.
This is also the first time in Thorarinsson’s career that he has witnessed such a large number of fouls. There were 26 called on Portland and 17 on GU. The Pilots scored one goal on a penalty kick, and another on a free kick from right outside the box.
The constant stream of penalties broke up the flow of the game, and the Pilots capitalized, while GU lost control.
This is the Bulldogs' first home loss of the season, but Thorarinsson expects them to bounce back as they hit the road for a three-game road trip.
“I think they will respond,” he said. “I know they don’t consider one game to be a reflection of what they do. These guys are old enough and experienced enough that they will respond positively.”
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